Pay Attention to Local 383

The chance to investigate the passion and dedication of the newest members from Division of Criminal Justice Detectives Local 383 reveals a group of law enforcement officers that deserves long-overdue recognition and has come to the PBA for help to get better working condition.

Meet some of the most fierce and fiery investigators in law enforcement, the newest sisters and brothers of the NJ State PBA Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) Detectives Local 383, ordained in December 2019. Here they are at an impromptu dinner of executive board members rapping about the trials and tribulations of being the attorney general’s agents, a force akin to the FBI of New Jersey.

A trip around this table reveals intel about some of the nearly 20 units that are part of the DCJ: gangs and organized crimes, human trafficking, the Atlantic City Violent Crimes Task Force, Medicaid, environmental crimes, financial crimes, the Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor (OIFP) and the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA), to name a few.

They share particulars about some of their work. There is the clergy abuse task force currently tracking sexual abuse by clergy against citizens of New Jersey. And the prescriptions drug diversion uncovering large amounts of insurance fraud related to high-priced or high-valued prescriptions bought and sold on the black market. And the recent arrest of somebody who endangered a large water system in the state. For the AG, they are like county prosecutor’s detectives who incidentally train at the DCJ Academy in Sea Girt.

Their passion and dedication are ravenously appetizing. But Local 383 is a bit, well, dismayed. Upset. PO’d, even.

The work DCJ detectives take on is some of the most important in New Jersey law enforcement, including investigating all officer-involved shootings as the AG has ordered in response to the use-offorce malaise. But they are woefully underpaid. They are at-will employees devoid of the protections Civil Service law enforcement officers have. Only passage of state legislation 40 years after the creation of their department in 1970 has allowed them to collectively bargain.

So they have come to the PBA as one of the largest statewide Locals seeking the legal protection, health benefits access, labor relations expertise, legislative muscle, political action connections and interaction with the 32,000-plus members that they believe will change their lives. Division of Criminal Justice Detectives Local 383 left behind a 20-year frustration as an NJ Fraternal Order of Police unit to find the identity, appreciation and representation commensurate with “their unique position as an integral part of NJ law enforcement,” as PBA President Pat Colligan classifies them.

“We wanted the strength in the numbers behind the PBA,” Local 383 President Kimberly Allen responds, when the dinner conversation turns to the upgrade in union affiliation.

Secretary Corey Fischer adds, “I worked with an agency that was FOP and one that was PBA, and I saw the PBA was a superior union.”

Chewing on the benefits of PBA association, Treasurer John Neggia has a profoundly educated perspective on the move. He served as president when the DCJ first was granted collective bargaining rights.

“The PBA has active law enforcement officers as members of the executive board, not retired guys who are not really in tune with what we are dealing with now,” Neggia explains. “With the move to the PBA, our members are more upbeat and optimistic now.”

Paying tribute

Amid the climb in front of them, Local 383 members have maintained their sense of humor. One of the lines making the rounds at the dinner table jokes that the Local’s mascot should be an owl. Because when people hear “Division of Criminal Justice,” they ask, “Who? Who?” Another quip is less droll but equally telling: “We have to remind them that it’s Division of Criminal Justice, not Department of Criminal Justice,” confirms Local 383 State Delegate Jason Volpe.

Formed under the Criminal Justice Act of 1970, the DCJ is charged with the responsibility to detect, enforce and prosecute the criminal business of the state through the uniform and efficient administration of criminal laws. The Division investigates almost any case in the state that is second degree or above, stretches across city or county lines and is of a sensitive nature. If a county prosecutor has a conflict, the DCJ supersedes the case.

There’s lots of fraud, organized crime and corruption. The cyber unit is working a large-scale investigation into child exploitation. Another unit is looking into candidates for office who have been charged with taking large bribes.

You need a college degree to be a DCJ detective. Many of them have a master’s degree. Some have a Juris Doctor.

Sergeant Scott Donlan, a Local 383 trustee, is one of those members who has a law degree but prefers this type of police work because “it’s far more interesting than practicing law.” A 21-year veteran, Donlan exemplifies the dedication of this agency. He travels from Hillsdale in Bergen County to work at the Electronic Surveillance Unit in Hamilton. Some days, this requires leaving at 3:30 a.m. to make a 5:30 a.m. briefing.

Another member who personifies the passion of the DCJ is Lieutenant Lisa Cawley, also a trustee who has nearly 20 years with the Division. Cawley is now in charge of the academy, but she has distinct insight about what inspires officers in this agency.

“It’s being able to do investigations throughout the state and make amazing cases that probably wouldn’t have gone anywhere,” she discloses. “We have the drive, ingenuity and persistence to follow the investigative leads wherever they go.”

Where some have led can be read between the lines of the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety website. A tab for news trumpets some of the highest profile DCJ work in the form of datelines and headlines by month and year going back to 2005.

Reading some of these headlines would indicate that the DCJ is a who’s who of law enforcement, including these from 2019:

Dec. 13: Nine Indicted in Investigation of Narcotics Network in South Jersey that led to Raid on Drug Mill and Seizure of Assault Rifles and Other Guns. The DCJ dismantled a drug mill in Vineland and seized heroin and fentanyl, as well as assault rifles and illegal large-capacity magazines.

Nov. 1: Former Teacher Sentenced to 17 Years in Prison for Taking Explicit Photo of Student and Creating Child Pornography by Taping Boys in Bathroom. The Division of Criminal Justice Financial and Cyber Crimes Bureau arrested the teacher in 2016 in Operation Safeguard, a child pornography sweep conducted by the attorney general’s office.

May 9: AG Announces Charges Against 19 Individuals in $11 Million Medicine for-Cash Insurance Fraud Ring That Diverted Lifesaving Prescription Drugs. The OIFP case led to charges against 19 individuals for their alleged participation in an $11 million “medicine-for-cash” insurance fraud scheme.

May 1: Five Defendants Plead Guilty in Illegal Loansharking, Check Cashing, Gambling and Money Laundering Schemes Linked to

Genovese Crime Family. Defendants are indicted in “Operation Fistful” by the DCJ and New York Waterfront Commission.

To name a few.

“From our first meeting with them, we saw everybody there is a dedicated professional to the state,” Colligan comments. “The unique jobs they do should finally be given the attention they deserve.”

Paying respect

The path to warranted attention would be a plausible uphill battle if DCJ detectives could just get out of the hole they’re in. Their top-out pay of $91,000 is at least 40 percent less than some county prosecutor’s detectives earn.

While pay is the summit, there is much to alleviate along the way. Local 383 has a formidable lifeline through the representation of noted labor attorney Frank Crivelli, who has been with the DCJ group for nearly 15 years.

Crivelli has been their sherpa, guiding them through the consternation in 2010 to secure the right to collectively bargain. The DCJ detectives initiated their own political action to lobby legislators in 2010 to get the bill passed that changed the statute so they would no longer be classified as confidential public employees, who by statute cannot organize to bargain.

“The legislation was finally passed on the very last day (Governor) Corzine was in office, and he signed the bill,” Crivelli recalls. “All that did was remove their confidential status and change their job title. Then we had to petition PERC to organize.”

The next legislative hurdle seems to be much more formidable. Local 383 members would need a bill passed to change from being at-will employees, a classification that offers little or no job protection or rights. Or they would need the AG to agree to offer such protection in a new contract.

“If law enforcement officers in the state are disciplined and it’s a Civil Service jurisdiction, they have the right to appeal the case,” Crivelli explains. “If it’s non-Civil Service, they have appeal rights to the superior court of New Jersey under statute. These DCJ folks have neither; no true appellate avenue for any disciplinary action taken against them.”

No recourse? Is it that bad?

“It’s gotten better,” Crivelli adds. “They have an internal affairs procedure that they follow. They have the ability to have an internal hearing, a management hearing. That’s where it begins and ends.”

Their first contract expired in June 2019, and negotiations are underway for a new deal. But there’s a big ask at hand. Because of the 2 percent arbitration cap, the last contract gained just a 3.3 percent total increase in pay spread over five years. That’s almost sharecropper math and certainly not enough to keep up with the cost-of-living increases.

Additionally, there used to be an automatic progression of promotion from Detective 1 to Detective 2. But nobody has made Detective 2 in eight years.

So what could be on the horizon is the perpetuation of a mass exodus. Detectives are already defecting to Homeland Security, the FBI and county prosecutors’ offices.

“As any law enforcement executive in the state has seen, any agency that can’t pay becomes a breeding ground,” Colligan asserts. “Detectives are going to move on to better-paying jobs with better benefits. There’s no magic bullet until executives and administrators realize they can either pay their people or continue to be a training ground and lose 50 percent of their employees.”

The exodus could be fueled by approximately 60 percent of the supervisory staff being eligible to retire during the next five years. These are the agency members tasked with running day- to-day operations.

“Not being able to retain our detective staff is a critical issue when it comes to filling those supervisory vacancies,” submits Lou Renshaw, president of Local 383B that represents lieutenants. “Being forced to promote detectives without the necessary experience could seriously hinder the future operations of the division.”

As DCJ detectives confirm their commitment to current director Veronica Allende and Chief Weldon Powell, they maintain hope that the administration will throw them a line. (And maybe a bone or two.) Allende rose through the Department of Law and Public Safety ranks, working alongside many of these detectives as a deputy attorney general. So if she has their back – as they believe she does – perhaps recognition from the top can dig them out of the hole.

“In my opinion, the state has had an aloof attitude toward their concerns,” Crivelli relates from his seat at the negotiating table. “But I really believe the AG recognizes their professionalism and the exceptional work they do.”

Pay it forward

Bringing it back to the table – dinner, not negotiating – Local 383 extols the excitement of becoming PBA members, of leaving behind a union affiliation that some have called “the old drinking club.” The resources the PBA has at its disposal was tantalizing to DCJ detectives. “Second to none,” Deputy State Delegate Ross Portner confirms. “We had recognition that the PBA is such a big thing.”

It was back in October during an event to announce the Attorney General’s Resiliency Program in Newark when Neggia and Allen approached Colligan to have a word. PBA leadership hosted the DCJ detectives at the state office in Woodbridge to present details on those resources and meet with the leadership: Colligan, Executive Vice President Marc Kovar, First Vice President Pete Andreyev, Health Benefits Coordinator Kevin Lyons and Labor Relations Coordinator Mike Freeman. Special Projects Coordinator John Hulse conducted the presentation that has converted many Locals to the PBA.

DCJ detectives quickly initiated a card check to see if enough members would favor moving to the PBA. The response was so overwhelmingly positive that a PERC election usually required to change collective bargaining representation wasn’t even needed.

That was in late November and the new Local was born in early December, adopting the same number that it had in a first pass with the PBA some 20 years ago. Local 383 represents Detective Trainee, Detective 1 and Detective 2 members. Local 383A is sergeants; Local 383B is lieutenants.

Since officially joining, Lyons has attended a contract negotiating session to offer ideas on improving healthcare coverage and Freeman has shared information from the PBA database to begin chiseling away at the compensation blockade. Colligan hopes that the PBA’s open-door policy with the AG will also reap benefits.

“From day one they were ready to give us information, ready to attend meetings with us even before we did card checks,” Allen praises. “The energy and support Pat and his team have relayed to us is impressive. They really do welcome you with open arms into the PBA.”

Volpe had been a PBA member for five years with Barrington-Haddon Heights-Haddonfield Local 328, and he had related to DCJ detectives what they would get with the move.

“We knew the caliber of PBA support and strength in the state,” he details. “And their legal protection plan was significantly better than what we had.”

Portner attended the PBA state meeting on Jan. 7 and walked away even more impressed. “A well-oiled machine,” he describes.

After Local 383 members toured the PBA offices, they had dinner with the leadership. Colligan was very direct about what is at stake here. Nobody can promise a substantive across-the-board increase in compensation. Sure, a decent raise would be a home run, but there is a means to an end that will accentuate what attracts law enforcement to the PBA and how the PBA serves its members uniquely and exclusively.

“You have some extraordinarily dedicated professionals who are stuck in a position they should never have to be in,” Colligan declares of Local 383. “One of my goals is to let New Jersey see what they do and see how passionate they are.”